Over the next few blogs, I’d like to share my thoughts on the so called Barbarian Conspiracy, the creation of Valentia and its siting. I do not claim it to be a scholarly work, but I have tried to give as many references as possible but there will be no bibliography.
The Barbarian Conspiracy of 367 AD
By the late fourth century, the Roman Diocese of Britannia was divided into five provinces: Maxima Caesariensis, Valentia, Flavia Caesariensis, Britannia Prima, Britannia Secunda. There is no universal agreement as to where these were, but most place them (roughly) as shown on the map above (or left). (I will show another theory as to where they were later). In the map, Valentia has been situated in the three most argued regions. (I’ve followed modern day county boundaries, just as a guide and given Maxima Caesariensis two possible western borders).
It’s said that the Barbarian Conspiracy of 367 involved the Picti, Scotti and Attacotti (Atticoti, Attacoti, Atecotti, Atticotti, Ategutti). The latter tribe is hard to identify and they have been placed as far afield as the west coast of Scotland and southwest Wales. Wherever they were from, after the Conspiracy they ended up being ‘moved’ and three Roman military units were created from them.
The 4th century imperial historian Ammianus Marcellinus, whose account this is, tells us that the Saxons were not involved in it as they and the Franks were busy attacking Gaul this time around.
When Count Theodosius arrived in London to sort the problem out, we are not told who was doing the attacking of the city, they are just called a “roving band of plunderers”. We also don’t know who killed the Count of the Saxon Shore either but it probably allowed the Picts to sail some 500 miles to get to London. If, indeed, they did and these ‘roving bands’ weren’t rebellious soldiers.
Ammianus also tells us the Conspiracy included treachery on the frontier defences (the Wall), army desertion and, two years later, the usurpation of the political exile Valentinus (who the new province was not named after), his capture and execution.
It has also been questioned as to why Ammianus tells us that Count Theodosius wanted to avoid reprisals for fear of further disturbances.
“[...] led him [Theodosius], with an eye to the future, to forbid investigations into fellow-conspirators, incase this should spread alarm among many people and stir up again in the province [...]”
He’s telling us he didn’t want to stir up a problem within the province again. Was the Barbarian Conspiracy as much a propaganda exaggeration? Was it more of a ‘Romano Conspiracy’? After all, Theodosius was the father of one of the current emperors. Was it as much a cover-up for civil unrest caused, or added to, by Valentinus? Whatever the case, the area most affected was won back and (re)named Valentia after one of the emperors.
It appears that this province was ’abandoned to the enemy’ in 367 (or before) and wasn’t regained until 369 or later. Considering that Theodosius fought against Scotti and Picti it could be the northwest or northeast below the Wall, the whole area below the Wall or, indeed, anywhere down the western seaboard to North Wales.
Professor Birley in his book ‘The Roman Government of Britain’ believes that Britannia Secunda may have already been divided, possibly north and south as opposed to east and west, with the new part – whatever it was called originally – being renamed Valentia. Bartholomew (Britannia 15, 1984) argues for Maxima Caesariensis being renamed. Hind (Historia, 23, 1973) suggests the whole diocese was renamed, Ferre believes York was its capital, whilst Gidlow (Revealing King Arthur, 2010) wonders about Maxima Caesariensis having been divided. Let us look at the merits of each one.
Valentia between the Walls
There are some who argue for Valentia being the region between the Walls (‘The Old North’) as shown on the map above. If it was here, this, of course, would had to have meant that this region was retake by someone, such as the co-Emperor Constans in 343. There was a campaign against a situation in Britannia that must have been so serious that he crossed the Channel in winter. It would make sense to retake the region if this was the direction from which the attacks were coming, or the kingdoms there were also complicit in it. It could also make sense of the Roman names of the ancestors of Cunedda of Manau Gododdin (west of St. Andrews in Fife). But there are several problems with this argument:
- There is no evidence of reoccupation of the region.
- There is no evidence of a triumphal march given to an emperor taking new territory.
- If this was a region that had caused problems, or at least been complicit in them, would the Empire simply let these tribes look after their own military needs, and not re-station legions in the area. It could be there were foederti, laeti or gentiles stationed there who we’re not aware of, but if there were they left no archaeology, apart from the coin hordes at Trapian Law. It might be argued that they would only give such coins to a place that had an economy or system that could use them, but this seems to be the only evidence so far. It’s also possible that they were simply ‘paid’ to keep them ‘sweet’, and the use of such payment forcing them to buy from the Empirical Britannia to the south. There is also the possibility that they were taken by raiding.
- The creation of other provinces within a diocese elsewhere in the empire have always come through the division of an existing province (Mann, 1998).
- It seems possible that they did what the Romans had done elsewhere and placed small detachment within ‘kingdoms’ to keep an eye on them, giving them citizen status but not making them a province. (Mann, 1998). Quintilius Clemens of Stathclyde may have been one.
- The cost of creating another new province would be immense.
Valentia was placed in this region by the 12th century Cambro-Norman cleric Gerald de Barri, otherwise known as Geraldus Cambrensis or ‘Gerald of Wales’. He not only placed it here but gave its provincial capital as St. Andrews. Of course, this would not just make Valentia between the Walls but put it beyond as St. Andrews is in northeast Fife. (See map above)
As argued by Ann Dornier (Britannia, Vol. 13, (1982), 259) this could be a political move as there was very much a ecclesiastical ‘fight’ between York and St. Andrews in the 12th century as the latter was trying to get primacy in Scotland over the former, and Gerald probably favoured St. Andrews. Any claim to supremacy was helped that much more by showing a Roman past and making St. Andrews the capital of Valentia would do just that.
It should be possible to discover if Valentia was between the Walls or within the original diocese by where the Notitia Dignitatum (c.380-430), which lists the military units and their placements, has them; but this is not only hampered by the difficulty of identifying all the Latin place names but by the fact units in Valentia aren’t mentioned at all. (Perhaps this latter fact could be used as an argument for Valentia being between the Walls).
There appears to be only two places that are questioned – Dicti (Old Worthingham?) and Morbio (Ilkley?) – both in the north, and three that are unknown – Praesidio, Olenaco and Ulrosido. The latter two are listed as units on the Wall (Hadrian’s). If it was the case that Valentia was between the Walls then this might leave only one unit that protected it, besides the the 10 units of the Comes Britanniarum. There is no evidence for the refortification of the Antonine Wall.
There could also be a problem with where its provincial capital would be placed, St. Andrews aside, as it wouldn’t have one originally. It is possible that the area around Carlisle was adjoined to it, as this did happen elsewhere in the empire.
In the next blog I’ll look at some other location options.
Thanks for reading,